Colorado’s new ski resort, Bluebird Backcountry, passes the test
Sky-Hi News gives new backcountry resort a try, leaves hooked
Getting into backcountry skiing can be daunting, especially for a newbie like me.
A brand new setup can cost upwards of $2,000 easily. That, along with the fear of serious injury or death via avalanche, makes for a hefty price tag for someone who’s looking to go backcountry skiing but doesn’t have the foggiest idea where to start.
With a nice location, some infrastructure and decades of combined experience, it seems as if Bluebird Backcountry has solved these problems at a fraction of the price.
About 20 minutes north of Kremmling on US Highway 40, Bluebird Backcountry is a new ski resort that exists without any chair lifts, towropes or carpet rides. No, the resort is entirely devoted to backcountry skis and splitboards, on which guests have to beat gravity on their own before carving fresh tracks down the snowy mountainsides.
Still in its infancy, Bluebird Backcountry is helping winter enthusiasts — people like me, this writer — take the leap from the piste to the backcountry. For its efforts, the backcountry resort has been featured in publications like The New York Times, Outside, TGR, Adventure Journal, The Colorado Sun and 5280, sometimes in articles calling it “the first backcountry ski resort.”
“We don’t run around saying that,” said co-founder Erik Lambert, who simply feels like Bluebird Backcountry is filling critical gaps in backcountry education while helping to “revive the soul of skiing.”
Lambert knows the resort is unique, but he said nothing about what they’re doing is new. Rather, they’ve just combined a lot of great things into one place to produce a backcountry environment that’s controlled by professionals, as Lambert explained.
The resort has been garnering rave reviews since its opening, and the guest satisfaction surveys passed out each day at the resort have been overwhelmingly supportive, even when snow conditions have been less than ideal.
“That tells us there is something magical that we’re working on because people are lighting up in a new way on skis,” Lambert said of the reaction he’s seen in guests.
According to the resort, Bluebird Backcountry emerged from a research and concept phase that began in 2016 under the belief a human-powered ski resort could satisfy the public’s growing appetite for backcountry experiences.
The public got wind of the idea through a survey released in February 2018, and over 3,000 people responded. Of those, more than nine out of 10 expressed interest in the idea. In spring 2019, Bluebird Backcountry tested out its concept on real snow by hosting 171 guests over six days at two different locations.
The six day trial allowed Bluebird to gauge demand, consider price points and drill down into exactly what kind of educational options the resort should offer before launching the first test season, which has Bluebird Backcountry open for 15 days between Feb. 15 and March 15 at Peak Ranch north of Kremmling.
Most basically, Bluebird Backcountry exists with a nice location for backcountry skiing, a team of dedicated guides and instructors, and a fleet of rental gear that can get any novice going uphill in no time. For anyone unfamiliar with them, splitboards are snowboards that come apart down the middle to form two skis for uphill travel.
More than anything, Bluebird Backcountry seeks to provide a safe, welcoming environment for practically anyone — including families and risk-averse skiers like me — to try out backcountry skiing, learn what it’s all about and hone their backcountry skills. Lambert said about 30% of Bluebird’s guests sign up for lessons, 40% rent gear and many others do “a free range thing,” in which they go out exploring on their own.
Included in the resort’s lessons, instructors work to instill good habits and proper etiquette in their guests. For many, the next step after taking a lesson will likely be a traditional avalanche course, which is also heavily promoted by the instructors.
While Bluebird Backcountry has put special attention on backcountry safety — the resort has avalanche beacon demos and a device at the gate letting everyone know theirs is working properly — it exists entirely on avalanche-evaluated terrain, and none of the instructors seemed to have any fear of getting buried during a Sunday tour.
Yes, I personally tried out the concept at Bluebird Backcountry, arriving Sunday morning without any backcountry gear or experience outside of skiing at Colorado’s downhill resorts. I can honestly say my experience was awesome.
After arrival, it wasn’t long before I found the resort was everything it’s been advertised to be and more. The rental gear felt like new and my instructors — Keith Hadyk and Roger Huang — were both extremely knowledgeable, ready to lend a hand and just fun.
Beyond the gear and instruction, the volunteers and paid staffers were superbly helpful top to bottom. They not only got me outfitted in boots, skis and a backcountry pack with essential items like a shovel and beacon, they made me feel at ease throughout the day.
Once geared up, I met the lesson instructors at the base by the parking lot. They gave a quick instructional briefing, tested everyone’s beacons and set us out toward the trails. Along the way, we stopped a couple of times for further instruction, covering the finer points like how to turn on skis that hinge at the toe.
At Bluebird, skiers and riders ascend using easy-to-follow uphill skin tracks before coming back downhill toward a warming hut that’s been set up on the property. Despite my lack of experience, I had no problem keeping up with the group and remained well within my comfort range.
Anyone who would like to put Bluebird to their own test has four days left this winter to do so — Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday — before the 2020 season wraps up.
For anyone who already has the gear, securing day passes at Bluebird is rather easy and costs $50. However, anyone who needs equipment rentals and a lesson should reach out through Bluebird’s website soon, because rentals are limited and those slots do tend to fill up. For rental gear and a lesson, the price is just under $200.
I can’t say that everyone who’s ever visited Bluebird Backcountry had the same amazing experience that I did on Sunday, but I can give the backcountry ski resort my stamp of approval.
Bluebird Backcountry closes for the season after this weekend. For more, go to BlueBirdbackcountry.com.
Grab your headlamp for a social evening at the Perch and join fellow Bluebirders for a bonfire, stargazing, jam session and grill-out for the resort’s last weekend of the season at Peak Ranch. There will be barbecue and people can bring their own drinks and dinner to throw on the grill.
When: Saturday, March 14
4–6 p.m. — Post-ski chillin’ at the Base Lodge
6–7 p.m. — Skin up to the Perch
7–9:30 p.m. — Perch bonfire and jam session
9:30–10 p.m. — Return to the Base Lodge
10 p.m.— Mountain closes
Cost: Free for anyone with a Bluebird Backcountry Day Pass for Saturday or Sunday. Just check in with your reservation. For everyone else, a $25 ticket is available by walking in or visiting the resort’s website. If you need equipment, that will be rented at the full day price. This is a group ski-to/from social event without open night skiing.
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